Western Sullivan Public Library
An interview with Kristin White, Library Director
By Joel Friedman
Library Director of the Western Sullivan Public Library, Kristin White, was interviewed by Joel Friedman. To read Part 1 of her interview, click here. The remainder of the interview focuses on the 3-branch library.
The Western Sullivan Public Library shares its service boundaries with the Sullivan West Central School District, in Sullivan County, NY. The rural district covers more than 250 square miles and is nestled between the Catskill Mountains and the Delaware River. Across the river is Pennsylvania. The district serves about 1,300 students in only one high school and one elementary school. The region is perhaps best known by outsiders for two things: its world-renowned fly fishing on the Delaware and nearby Beaverkill rivers, and the original 1969 Woodstock Festival, which took place in the town of Bethel on ground that is now the home of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Well, you just had a budget vote last week, and the budget passed by a landslide!
Yes, 105 to 15! So, I’m hoping I can get up to Saratoga in November and meet my fellow NYLA members.
How much did they ask for?
They asked for a 6.65% increase, so it’s nice that we had that turnout in favor of it.
What is the total budget of the library?
For the current year it is $602,000. With the new budget approved, beginning July 1 we’ll be working with $643,000.
And you didn’t have any input into that budget, right? You came in too late for that.
Right. That was all said and done before I got here.
Have you looked through it?
Yes. We have some really nice programs, and our program budget just went up by $2,000, so that’s pretty significant. And then we had a public computer center grant, for $244,000, and so that’s been huge here. That was from the Recovery Act. It expires in September, so the majority of what we asked the public for was to continue this, but on a smaller scale—our Public Computer Center. We asked for $25,000 from the public. We also secured a donation, so we are putting $30,000 of the donation toward that to fund the program for one more year. That’s going to be a really big role here—trying to continue that Public Computer Center grant. We want to keep it going, offer the classes that are needed. We have open hours where people can just drop in and get computer help, and that’s been really big, in all three branches.
How many people do you serve?
We have 5,236 registered users. We circulated 75,800 books and materials in the past year.
What did the budget increase mean for the tax bill of an average homeowner?
It’s a $5 increase for a $100,000 assessment.
And I’ll bet a lot of houses around here are assessed for that amount or lower. Are there any restrictions for you on fundraising?
We are part of the municipality, so we cannot fundraise directly. However, if we had a Friends of the Library group, they could fundraise on behalf of the library.
Audra Everett, Assistant Director, joins the discussion.
Is there a restriction on libraries relative to fundraising?
Audra: Because we are a taxpayer-supported library, we’re considered a municipality service, so that’s why we can’t ask for funds that way. We can do that by starting a Friends group.
So there is no Friends group here?
Audra: No, we don’t have one.
Do you have any core vo lunteers who are really driven?
Audra: We do have volunteers, but some like to work independently. We have one who coordinates our book sales, and she raises about $8,000 a year for us.
Kristin: We do have a core group of about 30 volunteers who work the circulation desk, process materials, and help out at book sales and other events.
Audra: Yes, our volunteers do book sales, and they raise quite a bit of money for us. We just wrapped one up that lasted four or five days.
You mentioned earlier about the broadband and that you did get a donation for next year. How did that work?
Audra: We received a private donation, and we designated some of that money for the Public Computer Center and some for an elevator construction project in the Callicoon branch.
So would somebody like that say, well, how can I help? Or did they hear you were going to lose a grant and might have to cut back on a particular service, so then they stepped forward?
Audra: Well, this was a special case. I don’t want to go into the person’s private details, but someone did come forward with a large donation.
How long have you been working for the library here?
Audra: I’ve been at the library for ten years. I grew up here, lived in this area my whole life.
Has the makeup of the people changed much?
A lot of second-home owners are utilizing the library.
The year-round population: is it similar, or has it changed in any way?
Audra: I would say that for each community it’s different. More local merchants have come in, and there are second-home owners that have moved up here permanently.
Kristin: I would agree with that. Obviously I haven’t spent that much time yet in this specific community, but I’ve been in the region. I would say you’re starting to see a lot more people who had second homes who are now moving up permanently, which is helping our communities.
How have you gauged what the public needs from the library?
Audra: A lot of it is by circulation. We monitor what goes out. And then we track attendance at computer classes—offering classes and seeing what’s in high demand. That’s been consistent over the last ten years or so. There’s always a demand for computer classes. And we get feedback at the desk, of course.
How do staff members at the three branches get access to continuing education?
Audra: Well, we have one librarian on staff, and the rest is support staff, so we go to RCLS for workshops. They offer quite a few workshops and seminars. They’re in Middletown, so we have to commute over there for that. And our Public Computer Center has offered our staff numerous development classes at our three locations.
I think for many of the permanent residents here, they’ve experienced a lot of tough times economically. They probably gain a lot from having library services.
Audra: There has been an increase in usage in the library during the down times. Usage just shot up when the economy really went down—for the computers mostly, but also across the board.
Were they using the computers for job hunting or were they using them because they couldn’t afford their own computers or high-speed Internet at their homes?
Kristin: Yes, there are quite a few homes that do not have broadband service. We used to come in to the three branches, and so did others in our summer community, because we didn’t have any broadband service to our property. We did get that a few years ago, though.
Audra: A lot of people in the area still don’t have cable, so they use ours for broadband, and they take out DVDs to watch movies.
Kristin: The cable company starts you at $90 or $100 a month for the full cable package for the first year, and then that goes up to $130 or $150 after that, so it’s a lot of money for some people to pay each month. Some people may have to choose between that and other things that are more necessary for their families.
How many people attend your computer classes when you run them?
Audra: Our capacity is about 10 per class. We do have registration and a waiting list.
A lot of them book up fully?
Oh, yes, they’re full. Ironically, the workforce development one isn’t always full, for some reason. It did help a lot of people though, who were able to build small businesses here. They learned about building their websites, for example.
Do you know what the population of the district is?
Audra: It’s a little over 10,000. It’s the Sullivan West School District.
Kristin: And we have 5,200 registered users.
Audra: That includes some people over the Pennsylvania state line, which is right across the river, and some others outside the Sullivan West district. There are some areas within the Ramapo Catskill Library System boundaries that are not served by libraries, so residents in those areas can sign up with a library by paying a fee that’s equal to what a resident would pay in taxes.
What are some of the more popular programs the library has held over the past year or so?
Audra: Our First Fridays contemporary authors series over in our Narrowsburg branch has been going on for seven years, and that has been well received. We have authors come in from all over the country and some internationally, as well. It’s standing room only every first Friday of the month. That program has been great. And then also Find Art: Family Art Program, a multigenerational art project, for which we received a grant from the NEH, brought in families and it brought the First Fridays authors into the program, as well. They created art based on a piece of American art. The program was actually recognized down at the ALA conference last year!
And now we’re also doing our oral history project, where we record community members talking about how the river has influenced their lives. We’ve interviewed over a dozen people so far, and we’re hoping to get it up on the website in the near future. It’s great to be collecting these oral histories and having them documented forever.
Oh, yes, they’re such valuable stories.
Audra: Yes, just how the river has influenced industrial growth, or just their own personal stories. That program has been pretty successful. Our summer reading program—of course, every year we follow the New York State summer reading program guide and we get 50 to 70 kids per year come to the library, which is a good turnout for a children’s program.
Do you do any programs in conjunction with the school system?
Audra: We work with the schools when they do the battle of the books. We provide them with the materials. And they have a Caldecott Challenge, and we work with them to get the books for that. It’s always fun every year—we get to see who wins and what all the kids come up with. The computer center has been a great program for our library. It’s brought a lot of people into the library that would normally not use our services.
Kristin: That program is a huge part of what our future is going to be. And that’s why we want to sustain it, why our budget was increased this year, to sustain the program another year.
Audra: Also, the stimulus grant we got has allowed us to do so much more with technology, and it’s so valuable to the community. The number of people that have been using it and that have been successful in sharpening their computer skills has been phenomenal.
Kristin: I think so, and that’s definitely why you see it in our budget and why we’ve allocated a significant portion of that new donation to it. This is only my fourth week here, and I can tell how many people it draws in. Whenever you see the open hours and you see the people with their laptops sitting out there and asking questions, and you see our computer people rotating around, and you see the number of people who come in for the classes, you just know that you have to sustain that. You have to have that. It’s very important. And we have some great programs going on, too.
Audra: Yes, we have the knitting programs—it’s very consistent—we have women—and men!—who come here every week and they knit at the library. And book clubs, book discussions, chess clubs.
Do you use the lounge area over by the front window?
Audra: We have a community room at each of the three libraries. That’s where all our clubs meet. Those spaces are also open to any nonprofits in the area that want to meet there. The Girl Scouts have met here, and WJFF, the local radio station, uses the room.
Joel Friedman is a writer, editor, and web content consultant (http://jfcontent.com). He served for a brief time in 2010 as Deputy Director at NYLA and is proud to be a member of both NYLA and his local Friends of the Library.